During moments of crisis, PR professionals tend to focus on how stakeholders and audiences view their brand or client. But of growing concern is what search engines see when a negative news story hits.
Whether you’re focusing on crisis proactively or after the fact (and most PR pros would agree you really should be doing both), search engine optimization has a crucial role to play, say Charles Taylor, SEO manager at Verizon, and Ken Madrigal, digital and social strategy lead at Verizon.
The duo works closely to ensure the telecommunications company follows best SEO practices, implementing those practices across search, social and the company’s entire digital footprint.
Madrigal and Taylor, who will be speaking on SEO and brand reputation at PR News’ Google Boot Camp for Communicators July 19 in NYC, share four ways communicators can learn from Verizon's SEO practices when it comes to preparing for, monitoring and addressing crises.
Pay attention to changes in search engine results pages (SERPs). There are now a lot more ads at the top of Google searches, notes Taylor. Overall, Google is placing a variety of results, such as answer boxes, at the top of the page rather instead of displaying them as standard blue links.
These new formats offer reputation-building opportunities for brands’ digital properties. Taylor says brands can increase their odds of their content getting selected for these highly-coveted boxes, and Verizon has made tactical tweaks to its website to win an answer box of its own, which Taylor will cover at the Boot Camp.
Engage customers to start building equity ahead of time. “If you’re not getting online reviews for products and services, you should be,” Taylor says. Reach out to customers directly and seek responses not only via your website, but on social. That way when a negative event occurs, Google knows “you’ve got some fans out there; you’ve got someone who has your back.”
In buffering for crisis, earned media should be prioritized. “Think about brand equity, putting articles out there to create a foundation" of how people and search engines view your brand, says Madrigal.
Monitor trends around perception and sentiment. Madrigal believes online sentiment exists as a constant tide of ebbs and flows—regardless of how PR pros might try in vain to affect that tide. “People get hooked on trying to move sentiment, but the public controls the conversation,” he says. And measurement is key in trying to determine next steps in a crisis, whether you're looking at an internal dashboard or Google Trends for specific search terms.
To measure sentiment and manage brand perception, Madrigal uses an algorithm dependent on four elements:
- Curation (curating content at a large scale, including likes, shares and follows)
- Creation (users generating content along with your own content)
If you can leverage those four elements during a crisis, Madrigal says, then you can bring your brand’s flow of sentiment back to the norm. Madrigal encourages leveraging employee advocates, who “put volume out there, curate and create as well as influence” perceptions of your brand.
Remember that sudden shifts in sentiment are temporary. Online conversation is the totality of positive, neutral and negative sentiment, according to Madrigal. When there’s a crisis, the sentiment creates a peak in online conversation, which is noted by search engines. “Pay attention to peaks and valleys that you want to try to revert back to a ‘normal’ consistent pattern," says Madrigal. "The question to ask is how quickly it will return to the normal flow if it’s negative.”
“On the other hand, there’s no way to sustain a peak of positivity; it’s going to return back as well,” he says.
At that point, it’s on PR professionals to use their storytelling chops to continue landing the press placements and social media accolades that keep their brands involved in the conversation, wherever the online tide may lead.
Follow Sophie: @SophieMaerowitz